Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
Dads are choosing to stay home for different reasons
By Melanie Plenda
The baby starts to stir. You pick him up to hold him close, rock a bit and send him back to sleep and get on with the last bit of morning quiet. You pick up the house, get lunches packed, write a good-luck note to the oldest on her test today and slip it in the lunch pail as a surprise. Most of the morning's work is done when once again the baby stirs, this time for good, so you head in and start your day together and think: It's good to be a dad.
While there is no data on how many stay-at-home dads are in New Hampshire, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, 32 percent of married fathers are the primary caregiver in the household. This equates to around 7 million stay-at-home dads, according to the National Stay at Home Dad's Network. And by that groups estimate, those numbers are up from 26 percent tallied just five years ago.
But despite more men being in the at home workforce, groups and resources are still skewed heavily toward moms.
“Maybe I'm just sensitive to it,” said stay-at-home dad Bob Pavlik of Durham. “But I read parenting magazines and one of the magazines, the subtitle was ‘what every mom needs to know’ and that kind of offended me.”
There are a variety of reasons why more men are staying home. One contributing factor is that more women are graduating from college than men, placing them on a career track that perhaps their partners aren’t on.
That was the case for Andrew Richman of Hanover, who decided seven years ago that his wife's post doc track was worth staying home for.
“My wife was a post doc (in psychology) and it was simply that my career was easier to interrupt than hers," Richman, a former Washington, D.C. math teacher, said. “She was on a definite track and had a lot of years to go and a very sort of prescribed progression, and to interrupt it would have been very disruptive to her career. Whereas with my career it really wasn't as disruptive.
“Plus, being a math teacher, I was sort of a kid person in general.”
Though their family could have gone the child care route, Richman, he didn't want that for his kids.
“When I was growing up my mother was able to take time off, she had a job that she was able to stop for a few years,” Richman said. “And I just appreciated being able to come home from school and have a snack and have friends over. It's the childhood I knew.”
Pavlik said the reactions to his decision to be a stay-at-home dad have been mixed, but not from the moms he's encountered. The women, he said, and this was echoed by Pavlik, were very supportive. It was a slightly different story from the men they told. He said they usually react with one of reactions: envy, teasing, or uncertainty of how to react.
Richman, said in his experience, it was his working wife who took more guff for working instead of staying at home than he did for staying home.
“People assume that I have chosen to be home and they think that's nice, as opposed to 'you're just doing your role.' So I think I get more rewarded for that,” Richman said. “I do think it's hard to be a women who works when the father is staying home, because people look at you like, 'what's wrong with you, why don't you want to be home with your kids.' I think that concerns her, but for people who know us, they just know it works well for us.”
And, according to the Al Watts, president of the National Stay at Home Dads Network, while it's true men may have taken a hit professionally by the recession and are staying home, he argues many more are staying home by choice.
“I don't know of any studies that show how many at-home dads are there out of choice or being forced there through job loss, but I can say the vast majority of dads do choose to be home,” Watts said.
He also said people are wrong to assume the recent recession is the reason more men are at-home because studies show the trend was moving toward more men staying home well before the recession hit.
“The trend is driven more by women making more money and dads wanting to be more involved with the care of their children than dads losing their jobs,” Watts said.
Both Pavlik and Richman found communities they were comfortable joining. For Richman, he went to storytimes and playgroups at local libraries and other venues, regardless of whether it was touted for moms and found he and his kids were very much accepted. He said he also found a great deal of support through family resource centers like Families First in Portsmouth.
Pavlik was able to create his own network of moms and dads to have play dates with other friends and neighbors with similarly aged kids.
Watts also points out many men who do stay home also do some non-caregiving work from home in addition to watching the kids. Richman is an example of this. Even though he stayed at home with the kids, he continued tutoring. He said while the demands and decision making in child rearing is mentally challenging, continuing his work challenged him intellectually as well as helped him maintain a sense of himself.
And now that his kids are in school, he's turned his part-time tutoring into an at home business.
“I'll never work full-time outside the home again,” Richman said. “I think I've been able to have a relationship with my kids that I wouldn't have been able to have otherwise and I want that to continue."
For more information on the Stay at Home Dads Network, including how to start a New Hampshire chapter, go to athomedad.org.
Melanie Plenda is a full-time freelance journalist and mother living in Alstead.
Photo in this article courtesy of Shutterstock.com